STORIES FROM THE PARK
PRN Alumni Foundation is comprised of the former employees of Prince, Paisley Park, Paisley Park Records, PRN Productions, NPG Records, Love4OneAnother, any and all of Prince’s companies spanning his impressive nearly 40 year career.
There have been, quite literally hundreds of us in Prince’s employ. The Foundation represents our collective voice.
We are musicians, engineers, managers, lighting directors, wardrobe designers, stylists, makeup artists, drivers, bodyguards, admin staff, valets, drivers (and more!)
This ‘Stories From The Park’ chronicle is a way for our colleagues of all tenures and job types to share a little bit of Prince’s magic with you through our individual voices.
We hope you enjoy getting to know us…we feel as if we’ve known you, Prince’s fans (fam) forever <3
With love and gratitude,
PRN Alumni Foundation
Spotlight: Dave Hampton
Editor’s Note: When you hear a song on the radio or stream an album, the music you’re hearing has been recorded, mixed and shaped by an audio engineer whose job it is to capture the studio performance of the artist. Because audio engineering has long been a male-dominated profession, chances are, the person who decided how to shape the music you’re hearing was a man.
Because of the current push toward diversity and inclusion, the audio engineering industry has compiled statistics about the percentage of women who are audio engineers – some 5-7 percent by most estimates. However, when it comes to race, there are no current databases tracking that information.
As this story opens in 2004, Prince is a mature artist with a 26-year recording history dating back to his first album, For You, in 1978. As one of the most influential musicians in history, Prince had worked with many audio engineers. In his earliest days, he’d worked with Peggy McCreary and Susan Rogers, two pioneering women engineers who shaped many of his biggest hits in the 1980s. However, Prince had only worked with one audio engineer of color, Femi Jiya, who is to this day Stevie Wonder’s engineer. Jiya engineered a long string of albums, including Batman (1989), Graffiti Bridge (1990), Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999), The Rainbow Children (2001) and One Nite Alone … Solo Piano and Voice by Prince (2002).
The year 2004 marked a turning point in Prince’s career. He opened the 2004 Grammy Awards with Beyonce, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and undertook a sold-out, 88-show tour for the album Musicology. The Musicology tour emphasized Prince’s desire to promote what he termed “real music by real musicians” and gave recognition to the black artists who came before him, including Earth, Wind & Fire, James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone. Subsequent years would see Prince become increasingly outspoken in his support of the black community. For example, he would speak about the black experience in a more candid and open way in the media in multiple appearances on The Tavis Smiley Show. In 2005, he played one of his greatest televised performances at the NAACP Image Awards and paid homage to black musicians including The Impressions, Aretha Franklin and James Brown. And while Prince’s bands over the years had been comprised of a majority of black musicians, in the 2000s he also mentored many other young black artists including Janelle Monae and Alicia Keys.
“We understood the energy he got from doing his music inside Paisley Park”
How Dave Hampton Restored Prince’s Legendary Studios and Assembled a Team of Skilled Engineers that Helped Propel His Musical Reascendance from the Musicology era through 20Ten
By author, Laura Tiebert
On New Year’s Day 2004, audio engineer Dave Hampton walked through the doors of Prince’s recording facility for the first time and was greeted by Prince himself. The men shared some similarities: They were in their 40s, accomplished in their fields, and had overcome significant racial barriers in their career paths. That day, the two would begin a long collaboration that would intertwine Hampton’s career and Prince’s recording history forever.
Hampton didn’t know it at the time, but there was good reason it was him walking through those doors, and not anyone else. Hampton’s name had been given to Prince by his long-time front-of-house engineer Scottie Baldwin when Prince specifically asked if Baldwin knew “a brother who could come help repair the studio and get Paisley back up and running.” Baldwin did, in fact, know someone who fit the bill. Hampton was one of few engineers of color who at that time had the experience and skill set required for the type of work that Prince needed to bring Paisley Park Studios back to working order.
Prince led Hampton inside. Hampton blinked and tried to adjust to the dim light as he assessed the situation. Prince escorted Hampton down a dark hallway toward a light, then took him inside Studio B. He showed Hampton where there were some channels out on the console, and the 24-track tape recorder only had 14 channels working.
"As he(Prince) pressed the button, the console went, `poof!' and a little stream of smoke spewed up into the air and the console started on fire," Hampton says. “Prince said, `See! That's what I'm talking about. Nothing works.’"
Fortunately, Hampton had a background as an electronics technician, not always a skill set for an audio engineer. Digging through a storage room littered with broken equipment, Hampton found the tools he needed to restart the console and got to work. He knew that his potential client was sizing him up to determine if he could deliver the service he needed.
Hampton, who lived in Los Angeles, had an impressive resume that included a technical background in electronics and synthesizer development. He’d done extensive work on records and live shows. He’d restored another historic studio for legendary writer/producer Babyface and ran it for four years and been the personal engineer and keyboard guru for Herbie Hancock for 12 years. His clients included music icons Bill Withers, George Duke, RZA, Chicago, Whitney Houston, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Maxwell, and Organized Noyze just to name a few. Even with all of his experience, Hampton wondered: Could he and Prince communicate and come to an understanding of the greater goal?
The stakes were high. Soon after that first meeting, Hampton and Prince walked the property together. Prince shared his desire that Paisley Park be restored to working order. He explained in detail what he thought had happened to the studio over the years as well as discussed how he wanted the work done.
Once a bustling facility, by 2004, Paisley Park was a relic of a music industry “superstar” system that had gone the way of the 1980s supermodel. When Prince broke into mainstream culture in the early 80s with Purple Rain, his dream facility was constructed on a rural highway in a small town west of Minneapolis. Paisley Park opened in September 1987 and for nearly a decade employed a large staff, at times numbering more than 100 people. There was a wardrobe department, multiple recording studios, a dance rehearsal space and an enormous soundstage where videos could be filmed. Beginning with 1988’s Lovesexy, Prince’s albums would be recorded in large part at Paisley Park.
"That large staff and many departments were important to a creative like Prince, who needed to be able to refine his vision from all angles," says Hampton, in an email interview.
But, in the 1990s, the way the music industry operated began to shift.
"As the years progressed, like many artists, he began to look at the layers of business that had been set up on his behalf as well as the individuals who were in key roles around him, and he saw patterns," says Hampton. "Understand that when an entertainer views their career over time and looks at the financial outlay, it can be very sobering, especially when the creation of their art is at times an individual experience."
This is not to say that everyone around Prince had bad intentions, Hampton adds. Rather, it means that the industry has always been set up so that the artist was in essence the real time financial instrument that bares the full weight and responsibility for financing his or her own career.
There was a price that Prince paid over the years for the reality that was the Paisley Park facility. In addition to writing his own music and producing other artists, Prince always "had a live aspect to his career," Hampton says. This was not uncommon: For many artists, touring provides money for payroll, taxes and other operational costs. The size of this facility dictates that the owner must have a plan beyond just the music business to keep it in service.
With Paisley Park partially shuttered, Prince had been recording in other cities. Prior to meeting Hampton, he’d decided that he wanted to come home to Minnesota to make music once again, where he had always been most comfortable and creative. Prince could trust the recording process when it was done in house, because "if you create outside of that which you do not control, there is a level of concern you have about your ideas being seen and heard before they are finished,” Hampton says. “It was his home he was comfortable there.”
Hampton agreed to take the job of restoring the massive facility and undertaking Prince’s directive to convert Paisley Park to a more efficient version of the original concept – this time as a facility that could run with a minimal staff of strategic people.
Prince instructed Hampton, now his new lead Technical Director and Engineer, that he wanted to be recording lots of music at Paisley Park before the music industry caught wind of the news. They decided together that Hampton should above all else work in secret for as long as possible and that Hampton would not use any former personnel for local help.
“I literally stayed inside, only venturing from the hotel to the studio and back,” Hampton says. “I would bring in all the repair parts in my luggage when I flew in. I would also ship my personal equipment in from Los Angeles.”
Hampton spent the first weeks going through each studio developing a list of items that needed to be checked and or repaired. Next, he moved into Studio B to repair the console and found the original tech documents that had hand-drawn notes from the original builder of the console, Frank DeMedio. About six weeks into the project, Hampton was through most of the fixes for the API and was wrapping the monitor system when Prince came in and tested the room. Once he saw it worked, he gave Hampton the nod to keep going. Hampton decided to bring in another engineer who had good technical chops to increase the pace of the repairs. While Hampton finished Studio B, Hampton had the other engineer begin testing the repairs. Hampton then shifted his attention to Studio A, where they spent several more weeks doing the same overhaul process and then more intense testing.
The project was daunting, Hampton says, adding, "It’s one thing to fix broken gear and restore a space to operational status; it’s a different thing to restart a massive facility like Paisley that had been in disrepair for some time.” We utilized additional tech staff and local craftsman to be able to expand our repair of the total facility.
When Prince was on the road with the Musicology tour, he put Paisley Park in Hampton’s care. Hampton kept up the rapid pace of work. He spoke with those who had manufactured and worked on the original Paisley Park equipment. He studied the careers of the engineers that had served Prince in the past. He listened to all of the recorded material that made it to album status from Paisley Park as well as from every time period. He paid special attention to the work of audio engineer Femi Jiya.
“Jiya was one of the last engineers to work in the studios before they went off line,” Hampton says, “and he was the only prominent engineer of color to work with Prince up to that point.”
Hampton knew he was forging a new sound for Prince and writing a new chapter in Paisley Park’s history. What’s more, he knew that he had to make a bold and daring move in the same spirit in which Prince had reached out to him.
“From our time together and conversations, I could feel that Prince wanted an experience where he was around his people," Hampton says. “I applaud diversity and inclusions arrival, for years it has been an assumption and an actual state of arrogance that much of our industry operates in still to this day, that all relevant audio experiences, especially those at the superstar level, come from or require the presence of white men. I have always known that my existence and ability to thrive is still disturbing at times to the arrogant of our industry. Our mutual decision for me to work in secret was as much for me as it was for Prince. He was truly a genius at understanding the power of perception and how to make it work for you.
As Technical Director of the recording facility, it was my choice to have the operational staff be comprised of who I would like to have around the talent. I decided that Prince should be served by a team of great engineers who had experienced all types of recording and had experience working directly with artists on great music, and who happened to be of color.”
I asked all of the engineers I brought in to do the following:
- 1. You must learn every room and be able to record alone with Prince at a fast pace
- 2. Everyone makes the same rate.
- 3. Understand the importance of what we are doing.
The first person Hampton called was Khaliq Glover, a gifted engineer who knew how to make hit music. Glover had worked with Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Jeffery Osborne and understood high standards. Hampton knew that Glover had the creative capability to determine the recording and sound direction for Prince’s new music. The next call was to Ian Boxill, who had recorded and mixed jazz, hip hop and rap, and had also done several Tupac Shakur projects. Then came Ralph P. Sutton. Sutton was an original engineer with Motown when it opened its Los Angeles studios and had been working with Lionel Richie and Stanley Clark. Sutton had also served as Stevie Wonder’s personal engineer for many years. Information technology specialist Don Payne was next to join the team. Payne was crucial to the team’s success in terms of making sure tight deadlines were met and managing the technology involved in a massive studio complex.
“Don is my big brother for life,” Hampton says. “Whenever I need him he comes without question and always gets the job done.”
But even with all this talent on board, one piece of the puzzle was missing.
“I knew most of Prince’s most popular, best-selling recordings were recorded by women,” Hampton says. “Prince knew how to harness the energy and talent that a woman’s eyes and ears have and use it for his benefit.”
Enter Lisa Chamblee, a black woman and Minneapolis engineer who was younger than the rest of the team and had a fearless approach to engineering. She was the “local ear” who’d been brought up in the Minneapolis Sound and taught by the very same people who’d originally created music with Prince back when he started. Chamblee had been trained by Paul Peterson, bassist and vocalist and a leader in the Minneapolis music scene, as well as accomplished audio engineer Tom Tucker, who is widely credited with shaping Prince’s sound in the 1990s. Chamblee was called by long-time Prince keyboardist Morris Hayes to come to Paisley and see what was going on and quickly became the sixth and final team member.
The engineering team began working rapidly to complete the repairs to the main studios. Originally, Paisley had two studios: A and B. Hampton was responsible for adding Studios C and D and a video editing room, and for remaking the room that had been the wardrobe department and the conference room. Studio C was built with a custom sound system as well as a modified live console that was on a pivoting arm that allowed it to be moved to the side so that you could put a band in the room if needed. Studio D was assembled and wired by Paisley’s newest engineer, Chamblee. The new smaller room featured DAW (Digital Audio Workstations) as well as the ability to connect to the analog two-inch recorders that Prince preferred. Hampton reasoned that having the smaller Studio D as well as building Prince a mobile studio (known as Studio 3121), would expose Prince to the way young artists were recording in 2004 – in small rooms that were no bigger than a bedroom, and with lots of computerized tools at their disposal.
As the team finished updating each studio for sound and performance, Prince would arrive on the scene, eager to test-drive it. Each time, Prince would call a different engineer into the room to work with him.
“Ian (Boxill) and Lisa (Chamblee) saw the most work, followed by (Ralph) Sutton and (Khaliq) Glover,” Hampton says. “I am thankful that Khaliq was there because he understands and has seen me work with all my clients and he knows that I am a stickler for details. Sometimes I would not sleep for the entire time when Prince was in for a weekend. Khaliq was my personal voice of reason, often forcing me to take a walk outside of the walls of the Park just to ease my mind.”
"When Prince would want to joke, I didn’t," Hampton says. "When he came to the studio to record, we were always ready. Being responsible for his music facility as well as his recording environments is a huge responsibility."
Observing Prince in the revitalized spaces, Hampton remembers, "It seemed as if he was moving through each place in the studio in an effort to see if he was able to do what he used to do. By the time we were fully operational, we were working at a very fast pace."
With Paisley Park back online, Prince would travel home from the Musicology tour, record nonstop, and then fly out to the next tour stop. Soon the team began to play a larger role as Prince returned home as often as possible to record. Prince took time to learn each engineer on the team and the conversation and camaraderie were an important part of the music that resulted.
Prince recorded 2006’s 3121, 2007’s Planet Earth, 2009’s LotusFlorw3r, and 2010 with Hampton’s team. Notable songs included “Black Sweat,” “3121,” “Beautiful, Loved and Blessed,” “The One U Wanna C,” “Somewhere Here on Earth,” “Future Baby Mama,” “Resolution,” “Guitar,” “4Ever,” “Colonized Mind,” and the 2006 Golden Globe award winner for best original song, “Song of the Heart” from the movie Happy Feet, which was recorded in Studio D.
“The recordings from this time musically are extremely funky,” says Hampton. “That sound combined with some other things are part of the DNA of his music after he began creating back at home at Paisley Park again.”
In recent years, Hampton says he’s been able to meet some of Prince’s early engineers, including Peggy McCreary and Susan Rogers.
“Susan and several of us talked all night about the similarities over the years, and when Susan commented that she really like the sound of the 3121 record, I knew that the time I had spent studying the sonic imprints left by the earlier staff was the correct direction for us to go in,” Hampton says.
In mid-2010, six years after Hampton first set foot in Paisley Park, the team’s service was complete. Prince called the team into his office. He told the group that they were some of the most honest people he had ever met and he appreciated them for the support they had been able to provide.
“Once we left the meeting, I pulled everyone into the shop and said, `You do know that was his way of saying thank you? He very rarely says that, so take that as your bonus and job well done,’” Hampton recalls.
Hampton stayed in Minnesota for one more job. Prince had asked the owner of First Avenue to consult with Hampton on what updates would be needed for the club, because he was planning to do a concert there. When that job was finished, Hampton returned to Los Angeles and moved on to new clients, as did the team.
The team had supported Prince through the start of what would be one of the most epic times in his career, Hampton says.
“During our time, we were proud to have been part of his team through some of the most iconic performances of his career, including the 2007 Superbowl. We understood the energy he got from doing his music inside Paisley Park. We loved our brother and supported our brother because that was what he needed.”
After the team left in 2010, Prince would take a four-year hiatus from producing albums, the longest gap of his career, before he came back with 2014’s Art Official Age and 2015’s HitnRun Phase One and HitnRun Phase Two. Hampton stayed in touch with many of the engineers who came after him, noting that all were talented and able to step in to handle the responsibility of working with Prince. Among the engineers were Richard Furch, Chris James, and even multi-Grammy-winning engineer and Hampton friend Jon Gass, who called Hampton to ask studio questions as he prepared to record one of the last shows that Prince did at Paisley Park during the Piano and a Microphone tour performances at Paisley Park.
Hampton was able to guide Gass, who was working with Scottie Baldwin at Paisley Park that night.
“I remembered every detail of Studio A because I’d spent so much time getting it to work for Prince,” Hampton says. “Together, Jon and I talked on the phone and got studio A up and running.”
After Prince passed away on April 21, 2016, Hampton called each of the engineers and told them that their time with Prince in the studio belongs to each of them and it would be their choice how they shared those private moments with the world.
“I also told them that one day we will stand as a group and talk about our time and I will always be proud of the work we did and honored to stand with them,” he says. “So much of our lives as engineers allows us a private view to some truly talented individuals. What makes us all good at what we do is that we know when to be quiet and make room for the magic of music!”
“Paisley will exist inside the hearts and minds of all of us who served there,” Hampton says, adding that he uses what Prince taught him when he works with this new generation of artists. “Our conversations and notes are forever locked in my heart and mind. I am currently traveling around in my work and experiencing new things and people who never knew Prince but who were affected by his existence. I help them because it is what he would want me to do. I am forever grateful for the trust and responsibility he placed on me to work with him at Paisley Park.”
Note from Dave Hampton: My comments about racial generalizations and attitudes in our industry is part of my and many other nonwhite engineer’s reality. I have friends who are engineers from all over the world and I would hope that those who know me will understand the context of my comments. My reality is that Prince specifically asked for someone with my skill set as well as skin complexion! All the events of my life had led me to MN. The power of the situation for me is endless and is what makes me still care about the clients that I serve. Our initial walks and talks about the restoration of Paisley Park, created an opportunity for my team and I to fix the studio and be a part of creating some of the greatest music and iconic performances from him during that period of his life. It’s hard to put into words but I am grateful even today as I write this, that in my life I had the fortune to meet and work with him.
© Laura Tiebert & PRN Alumni Foundation